When most of us hear the word fat, we immediately think of our waistlines. It is important to understand that eating fat doesn’t necessarily make you gain weight. In fact, you need certain types of fats to survive and be healthy.
The body uses dietary fat for energy; most vitamins and nutrients couldn’t be absorbed without it. Fat protects your cells and nerves, and it is necessary for certain functions like blood clotting and muscle movement. Your body cannot make all the fats you need, so you have to get it from food.
Trans fat or too much saturated fat is bad for you.
Trans fats are found in processed food which have been modified to prevent spoiling. Check the labels of the food products you buy. If the label says “partially hydrogenated oil”, you should try to find a better alternative. Eating trans fats raises cholesterol and causes inflammation, increasing your risk of heart disease. Examples of foods high in trans fats include:
- Fried foods like doughnuts, French fries, etc.
- Baked goods including cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies and crackers
- Margarine, shortening and other spreads
- Microwave popcorn
- Non-dairy creamer
When it comes to saturated fat, the biggest factor impacting your health is the amount you consume. Your cholesterol levels may increase dramatically if you eat too much saturated fat, which can cause blockages to form in your veins and arteries. However, saturated fats are also found in foods like whole milk dairy products and red meat, which offer other nutritional benefits. Eating small amounts should be fine if you don’t already have heart disease or other special dietary requirements. Examples of foods containing saturated fats include:
- Fatty beef, lamb, poultry with skin
- Beef fat (tallow), butter
- Cream, cheese and other dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat milk
- Some plant-based oils (e.g. palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil)
Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and limited amounts of saturated fats are good for you.
Vegetables, nuts, seeds and certain plant based cooking oils are excellent sources of good fat. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (polyunsaturated), have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Examples of monosaturated and polyunsaturated foods include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Flax seeds
- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout
- Plant based oils such as olive, canola, peanut, safflower, sesame, soybean, corn and sunflower oil
A final bit of advice: everything should be done in moderation. While some types of fats are good for you, consuming too much of it can cause serious health conditions. Be mindful and try not to exceed recommended daily nutritional needs.